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 A vastly engrossing 19th-century rags-to-riches autobiography by the somewhat priggish, but shrewd and observant, founder of the Mellon family fortune. Thomas Mellon (18131908) wrote this 1885 memoir solely as a ``memento of affection'' for his descendants, anticipating ``that it will not be for sale in bookstores, nor any new edition published.'' Mellon was born in Ireland to farmers of modest means who emigrated to Poverty Point, near Pittsburgh, when he was five years old. He recounts a happy, if Spartan, upbringing there on his father's farm. A visit to Pittsburgh impressed the nine-year-old Mellon with the magnificence of the city, and at the age of 17, deciding against farming in favor of getting an education, Mellon suddenly stopped his father from purchasing a farm for him. Interspersing college attendance with teaching and farm chores, Mellon attended Western University in Pittsburgh, read law with a prominent Pittsburgh attorney, and became a member of the bar in 1838. He married in 1843 and had eight children; became an eminent lawyer and judge and a successful investor; and founded a predecessor of the Mellon Bank in 1870. Mellon's narrative of his happy family life and prominent, though not terribly eventful, career forms the backdrop for a wide variety of opinions and observations, sage and otherwise: on the importance of marrying for discretion rather than love; on the heavy responsibilities of a judge; on the Great Panic of 1873; on the declining work ethic and increased crime rate Mellon saw around him in newly industrialized America; and on the (not always positive) transformative effects of new inventions created in his lifetime. A charming memoir with some surprisingly meditative reflections, by an entrepreneurial leader of the time, on the bewildering changes wrought by 19th-century industrialism. (Photos and maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8229-3777-8
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1994